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1000 of You by Linda Mooney (1)

Chapter 1

Trade

 

 

            “I hear your weapons are of the finest craftsmanship.”

            Muam Kai slowly turned around to glare at the figure darkening his doorway. The shed was unbearably hot, the furnace almost white. Sweat rolled down his bared skin in sheets. For a moment he resented the interruption. When he was working on a project, he blocked out the rest of the world in order to concentrate on what he was doing. However, he would never turn down a potential client, especially a new one. New customers had the potential of becoming repeat customers.

            “I would like to think I do,” he responded. “What kind of weapon are you interested in?”

            “A sword.” The man remained in the doorway. If he was trying to avoid the excessive heat, Muam couldn’t blame him.

            “Before I show a man a weapon, I need to know his name.” He kept his grip on his hammer and the partially-finished dagger he was working on. In his line of business, it was always wise to distrust a man until proven differently.

            Kolis Rahn.”

            Muam eyed the man’s clothes and tribal mark on his chest. “You are Jamboris. Are you new to the village? I have never seen you before.”

            Tokla Rahn is my brother. I am here to help celebrate his upcoming marriage. I happened to mention that I was in need of a better sword, and he sent me to you.”

            Muam nodded. Tokla Rahn was a good friend and patron. Now that Kolis mentioned it, he could see the family resemblance.

            “I have a couple of swords I can show you.” He gestured for Kolis to enter, and walked over to a small stand where the weapons were displayed.

The man hefted one and made a few practice swings. “I like the grip, but the balance is off.”

Muam frowned. There was nothing wrong with the sword’s balance. “What about the other one?”

Kolis replaced the weapon and plucked the other one from the stand. Taking a stance, he made a few lunges, then twirled the blade. “I like this one better.” He pointed to the first sword. “But I like that grip better.”

“I can change the grip.”

Kolis grinned. “Then you have a deal. How long will it take to change it?”

“I can have it ready for you later this afternoon.”

“Excellent. How much are we talking about?”

Muam quoted him a figure, deliberately making it higher than he had planned. He expected Kolis to try and whittle down the price. To his surprise, the man agreed without haggling.

“I will return after a while with your payment.” Setting the sword back on the stand, the two men clasped arms in agreement, and Kolis left the stall.

Muam stood there and watched the man depart. His stomach clenched in hunger, but it would have to wait. He wanted to get the sword ready first, in case the man returned earlier than expected.

It didn’t take him as long as he thought it would to change out the grip. When he was done, he went outside to the rear of the stall and practiced hacking at the straw dummy. He had to admit that the change in the grip did make the sword easier to handle. With it finished, he returned it to the display and went to find himself something to eat.

It was nearly sunset when Kolis returned for his weapon. The man tested the sword and approved the modification. “My brother gifted me with a new scabbard,” Kolis announced. “This will fit it nicely. You do superb work, Muam Kai.”

“Thank you. Now, for my payment.”

To his shock, Kolis stepped outside momentarily. He returned, dragging a woman by the arm, and shoved her in front of him. The female fell on the ground and remained there, unmoving, with her head bowed. Muam looked to Kolis for an explanation.

“There. That is your payment,” the man stated.

“I do not deal in flesh,” Muam sternly retorted.

The man gave him a self-assured grin and chuckled. “Oh, you will want to accept her in trade. She is Orshii.”

Muam stared at him in stunned silence for a moment. “There are no Orshii left.”

Kolis motioned toward the woman. “It is true there are not many still alive, but I guarantee she is. Do not believe me? Look for yourself.”

The man’s tone led Muam to believe he was telling the truth. By daring him to check her out for himself, he almost believed him. Still, when he knelt down beside the woman, he made sure to keep some distance between himself and Kolis. It was never wise to turn one’s back on someone wielding a weapon. Not even a customer.

Reaching down, he took the woman’s chin and slowly made her look up at him. Already he could tell she was young, but not a child. Full breasts heaved beneath the thin, dirty shift she wore. Her arms bore the marks of recent bruising. Her jet black hair was tangled and oily, and matted with dirt and burrs.

She glared back at him, yet it was obvious she was terrified. She was fighting herself not to show her fear, while at the same time she tried not to cry. Her lips were pressed together in an effort not to say something that might earn her punishment, but she couldn’t stop the tremble in her chin.

Muam stared into her deep violet eyes, and the sight of them erased all further doubt. No other tribe boasted that unique eye color. He glanced up at Kolis. “If she is so rare, why are you willing to part with her?”

“Because she is becoming a nuisance to me. I have to constantly keep her tied up to prevent her from running away.” He patted the sword. “I am off to join King Baspar’s army, and I cannot take her with me. But she is too valuable to just give away or set free. My brother happened to mention that you do not have a woman to keep your house, so I am trading her for this sword. I get a goodly weapon, and you get a prized slave. Fair deal?”

Muam looked down at the woman, who’d bowed her head. His first thought was to turn the man down and get back the sword. But he couldn’t forget the trepidation in the woman’s unique eyes. He may have imagined it, but he would swear he had also seen a silent plea to save her from this man.

However, there was also the chance that she’d make a run for it if he accepted the man’s offer. Wait until he had gone to sleep before slipping away. Yet, he was not the type of man who would tie her up. He had never owned a slave. Had never considered owning one.

For several long seconds, he waged war with himself, between his need for the sale, his desire to protect her, and the voice of common sense, which screamed for him to walk away. If he took the risk, he would also have to accept the possibility that, if she made her escape, he would be out all the time, effort, and materials he’d spent to make the weapon.

She peeked back up at him, as if she needed to do more than hear his words, which would also be her fate. Staring back into those purplish depths, Muam spoke. “I accept your offer, Kolis Rahn.” Swiftly getting to his feet, he extended his arm to finalize the deal. Kolis grinned, and they clasped arms.

“I must warn you. She is a terrible cook, but she’ll keep your bed warm enough if you make her.” The man winked. Muam forced a smile upon his face. He had suspected the woman had been abused. Slaves often were. In fact, it was to be expected that men such as Kolis would treat what living creatures he owned with little to no compassion. But such occurrences were often kept confidential. He didn’t expect the man to be so forward about it.

“I must go. Have fun. And when others comment on my new blade’s craftsmanship, I will tell them your name, Muam Kai.” Kolis pointed to the woman, directing his next remark to her. “If you bring shame upon me, I will hear about it, and I will come back and cut out your heart, and make you eat it.”

The woman’s face paled but she didn’t respond, neither verbally nor with a gesture.

Waving a hand at Muam, Kolis ambled away with his new prized possession, and never looked back.

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